Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

President Alexander Van der Bellen, above, took the Freedom Party’s Heinz-Christian Strache to task for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

VIENNA: Austria’s president rebuked the far-right deputy head of government on Friday for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying.
Heinz-Christian Strache, who led the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) to third place in last year’s parliamentary election and into government as a junior coalition partner, has for years accused national broadcaster ORF of left-wing bias.
On Tuesday he went further, posting a picture on Facebook of leading ORF news presenter Armin Wolf with the inscription, “There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.” Wolf has threatened to sue Strache, saying it is the first time a politician has accused him of lying. ORF demanded an apology.
“Disparaging remarks or baselessly accusing a person of lying have no place in our public debate. It is not respectful and it calls into question the freedom of the press,” President Alexander Van der Bellen told the Kurier and Tiroler Tageszeitung newspapers.
Austria’s president usually serves a largely ceremonial role but as head of state he has the power to dismiss governments.
Although previous presidents have only rarely criticized politicians publicly, Van der Bellen, an environmentalist who beat an FPO candidate in a close-fought runoff in 2016, has said he will watch the new government closely.
A day after his Facebook posting, Strache said it was merely a Mardi Gras prank that was marked as such because it carried the one-word caption “Satire!“
But he twinned that defense with a renewed attack on ORF, saying that when the government reformed the broadcaster he would make sure it would have to report “objectively” and scrap the license fee that funds it.
“Simply labelling something as satire does not by any means make it satire,” Van der Bellen said. “Freedom of opinion and of the press as well as independent media are a basic requirement of a living, liberal democracy. Critically questioning politicians is part of that.”
Wolf is known for his muscular interviewing style and has grilled politicians of all shades.
It is the second time Van der Bellen has publicly criticized a member of the FPO since the coalition government led by conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office in December.
Last month he called for the head of the FPO list of candidates in Lower Austria, the province that surrounds Vienna, to step down over his involvement in a right-wing student fraternity that once published a songbook with lyrics joking about the Holocaust. That call was heeded five days later.


Macron must unify France as unrest is hurting economy: Le Maire

Updated 34 min 2 sec ago
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Macron must unify France as unrest is hurting economy: Le Maire

  • Le Maire would not be drawn on a figure for annual economic growth in 2018 but said the wave of unrest was hurting France’s image among foreign investors
  • Le Maire reiterated his desire to accelerate tax cuts but suggested he was not in favor of reinstating a tax on wealth

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron needs to unify a country divided by the forces of globalization in a national addresses on Monday and end anti-government protests that will cut economic growth by about 0.1 percentage points, France’s finance minister said.
Protesters rioted in Paris and cities across France on Saturday in a fourth weekend of unrest that first erupted over high living costs but has morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.
“Our country is deeply divided, between those who see that globalization has benefited them and others who can’t make ends meet, who say ... globalization is not an opportunity but a threat,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL.
“It is the president’s role to unify the country.”
Le Maire would not be drawn on a figure for annual economic growth in 2018 but said the wave of unrest was hurting France’s image among foreign investors and would knock 0.1 percentage points off output in the final quarter.
Macron will make a televised address at 20:00 local Paris time (1900 GMT) as he seeks to placate “yellow vest” protesters, whose revolt poses the most formidable challenge yet to the 40-year-old leader’s 18-month presidency.
Le Maire reiterated his desire to accelerate tax cuts but suggested he was not in favor of reinstating a tax on wealth — known as the ‘ISF’ — that Macron narrowed when he came into office, and which earned him the tag ‘president of the rich.
“Does the ISF help reduce poverty, reduce our debts, reduce public spending? No. If you want to hunt for money, go knocking on the doors of digital tech companies,” Le Maire said.
Le Maire said last Thursday that France would tax digital giants at a national level from 2019 if European Union states could not reach an agreement on a tax on digital revenues for the bloc.
“It is time they paid a fair level of tax,” he told RTL on Monday.